I recently posted an invitation to leaders from all walks to consider kenevraire.com as a team building reward or maybe a kick-start for their team. One reader made this comment…
I have to disagree. Unless the reward is further education or training. Rewards are earned based on performance. If your employees are not provided with the tools, training and, education to be able to perform better, then your rewards program is going to fail.
So I replied with the following…
Thank you for your comment. I agree that further education and training is a great reward in a bid to elevate individual competencies but from a team perspective, the focus should be on “group” growth. I remember practising with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on what felt like the hottest day of summer. Guys were competing on the field for more playing time, for a greater role within the game plan but the turning point of practice and perhaps the season came when the coach stopped practice and opened up coolers filled with popsicles. Yes, it was only frozen sugared water on a stick but it brought the team together. The coach didn’t have to do it, but in one small gesture, he rallied the team and made the entire professional football experience quite “personal”. I remember sitting down with teammates from Tampa FL, Compton CA, Rochester NY, Winnipeg MB, Toronto On, and other places throughout North America, relaxing during what was a shared experience. Thanks to moments like the popsicle break, I was willing to go through the wall for them because I cared about them. I was going to show up early for work stay late and find a way to succeed because I knew they would do the same.
This morning, I woke up feeling compelled to expand on my position.
The cool, trendy thing in corporate culture today is the celebration of “the team”. Truth is since the 70’s, business leaders have come to the realization that decision making should not be reserved for a few. Decision making was not the providence of a couple of voices in window view offices on the top floor. The expectation that the rest of the company as a whole should follow faithfully without a say, had begun to change. The value of input, the value of acknowledging that there is indeed an “I” in team – the invested, inspired, initiative-taking individual was a turning point.
Today companies have foosball tables, in-house daycare, open concept layouts etc. all in a bid to inspire and connect the human spirit found within the team.
Back to that hot July day in Hamilton.
I remember the team struggling and guys were not in a great mood. We had to bus up to a high school field located on the escarpment in Hamilton which was a pain the gluteus maximus.
As per life in the Canadian Football League, there were a couple of new faces competing for jobs, unhappy veterans who felt they were not getting their playing time, upstart players who wanted more playing time. Everyone was competing for a paycheck. The pressure was enormous but the fact is, it was just another Tuesday for us! It was just another regular day filled with competition.
The special part of the experience was the unspoken understanding that each man, though uber competitive and fighting for a job, would do all he could to help the team win. No one man was greater than the team and its goals. It was about the team for the star players, for the back-ups and for the practice roster players.
Yet, how do get a group of high testosterone, high energy individuals to buy in?
The coach could share an inspirational pre-practice or pre-game speech and some guys would buy in and some wouldn’t. Some players tune out and some tune in! Yes, we get that we have to play hard, play smart and do all we could to win. We have been hearing that speech since our days playing kids football.
I have not heard a pre-game speech that could ever rival the popsicle break as a source of inspiration.
As mentioned, mid-practice saw an unscheduled time out. We wanted to get the practice over with but Coach John Gregory called us to the centre of the field. That’s when he told us to relax, not press too hard and that there was a lot of football to be played. Then he motioned to the training staff to bring out coolers filled with popsicles!
In the blink of an eye, the entire energy surrounding the team had changed. Everyone found shade, everyone shared and everyone cared.
I laughed out loud at jokes shared between Lonzell “Mo” Hill (2nd Rd. draft pick of the New Orleans Saints), Wally Zatylny (fellow CIS All-Canadian from Bishops University), Richard Nurse (Hamilton boy who went to Canisius College) and Scott Walker (from Lenoir-Rhyne College Bears – Hickory, North Carolina).
I learned that LB Terry Wright (Temple University Owls) and I shared birthdays (July 17th), I watched John Motton (LB – University of Akron Zips) do an impression of DL Mike Jones (Brockport State Golden Eagles) watching plays on the Jumbotron in the Skydome while the defensive huddle moved downfield away from him. At one time, the Toronto Argonauts complained to the refs about his being too close to their huddle. They thought that he was trying to listen to their plays! From that moment on, Mike was known as Jumbotron!
Getting to know your teammates on a personal level is key to any team’s success. It is the foundation for success.
The “popsicle” moments make a team. The “popsicle” moments get the team through the tough times.
I can barely remember the scores of games but I can tell you that RB Archie Amerson (Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks) was the toughest player, pound for pound, I have ever seen on the football field. I can tell you that no one understood half the things WR Tony Champion (Tennessee-Martin University Skyhawks) said and that no one will ever forget any of WR Earl Winfield (North Carolina Tar Heels) stories, including the one about fellow UNC alumni member Michael Jordan giving Earl a pair of NBA rookie season Air Jordan shoes and how Earl decided to wear them when he went out to cut the grass!
I will never forget LB Tony Visco (Purdue Boilermakers), knowing he wasn’t going to make the team, calling his own number to blitz every play during a pre-season game, which pissed off defensive coordinator Joe Moss to no end. Who could forget watching game film in the dark and hearing Coach Moss’ dog (half-blind poodle named Sam), bumping into the furniture?
Spitball fights, nailing teammates shoes to their locker rooms, a father and son walking into a bathroom at a player autograph signing event to see C Dale Sanderson (University of Tennessee Volunteers) with no shirt on and Wally Zatylny, also with no shirt on, applying temporary tattoos to each other in advance of heading out to Tailgate Charlies for a few beers with teammates!
I love my teammates. I was willing to pay the price asked of football players because of how I felt about my teammates. Not because of a great pre-game speech!
When I left football I brought popsicle moments to other teams I was a part of, be it the news team at The New RO and A-Channel, the Ottawa Invaders or mu family!
Popsicle moments will make better teams.
Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder. As a former professional athlete, he has learned from great coaches and learned even more from the bad ones!
To contact Ken email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.